Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: October 12, 2021
The Open Road
by Jean Giono, translated from the French by Paul Eprile, preface by Jacques Le Gall
An NYRB Classics Original
October 2021 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club
The south of France, 1950: A solitary vagabond walks through the villages, towns, valleys, and foothills of the region between northern Provence and the Alps. He picks up work along the way and spends the winter as the custodian of a walnut-oil mill. He also picks up a problematic companion: a cardsharp and con man, whom he calls “the Artist.” The action moves from place to place, and episode to episode, in truly picaresque fashion. Everything is told in the first person, present tense, by the vagabond narrator, who goes unnamed. He himself is a curious combination of qualities—poetic, resentful, cynical, compassionate, flirtatious, and self-absorbed.
While The Open Road can be read as loosely strung entertainment, interspersed with caustic reflections, it can also be interpreted as a projection of the relationship of author, art, and audience. But it is ultimately an exploration of the tensions and boundaries between affection and commitment, and of the competing needs for solitude, independence, and human bonds. As always in Jean Giono, the language is rich in natural imagery and as ruggedly idiomatic as it is lyrical.
Plenty of novelists withhold information about their narrators, names included. Plenty of novelists also take risks with time and pacing. What makes this novel stand out is the meticulous care that Giono applies to both his narrator’s voice and the ways in which he experiences time. . . . Shifting between lived-in details and a sense of alienation, this novel is frequently hypnotic and always compelling.
—Kirkus, starred review